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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Don't fight fire with fire

Don't fight fire with fire

Dear Sir:

In response to the rash of violent robberies and 'worsening

security situation', some NGOs have begun to seriously consider arming their

guards and themselves. In addition, at the recent meeting with diplomats and

NGOs, one solution offered by Co-Prime Minister Hun Sen was armed guards

seconded from the Ministry of Interior. Will that really solve the problem?

Perhaps it is an attractive option as it allows us to 'do something' without

really dealing with the source of the violence which affects all residents of


Yet in the rush to 'do something' such rash violent reactions

to an already violent situation are more likely to increase rather than curb the

violence. According to a recent study conducted in three American cities,

instead of protection, a handgun in a home almost triples the chances that

someone will be killed there. More importantly, perhaps we should ask ourselves

why we 'aid workers' allow ourselves to be sucked into the myth of solving

problems with violent means?

Rather than adding fuel to the fire

shouldn't we be trying to find creative, constructive ways to put out the fire?

As humanitarian workers don't we usually pride ourselves on thinking of ways to

improve society 'develop' communities? Then why the knee-jerk trigger happy

response? As one NGO worker said, "the day we start arming ourselves to protect

our cars is the day we should go home."

As Martin Luther King Jr. taught

us "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,

begetting the very thing that it seeks to destroy ... Returning violence for

violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid

of stars."

Some Cambodian colleagues have tried to begin searching for

alternatives. One suggested "Shouldn't we call for removing the weapons rather

than add more? How will that help solve the problem? We will just have more

shoot-outs. Instead of offering guns to NGOs the government should collect and

ban all guns, and punish those caught with them."

Another suggestion

heard was "The thieves want the newest model 1994 Land Cruisers, so why don't

the NGOs just sell those models off and put up with driving in older, cheaper

cars? They will still get them where they have to go." Surely these are not the

best nor the only solutions, but the point is we should use our time and energy

to come up with other options than simply going for the draw.

As the

Dalai Lama said: "It would be great if violence worked. But unfortunately it

just causes more problems than it solves. Let's try to really solve the


- Liz Bernstein



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